First Impressions: Spector Euro 5 RST Bass

Earlier this month, I picked up something a bit different – a new (to me) bass.

Talk about becoming a fish out of water! I am a complete beginner here, but as you’ll see, I think this might be one of the most important things I’ve tried for a long time. Why? Read on for my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Spector Euro 5 RST bass in turquoise tide matt. I got mine from Bass Direct in Warwick, after a visit to their shop. Just don’t tell them you’re a guitarist 😉

The Euro 5 RST is a 5-string bass (low-B, E, A, D, G tuning). It has a roasted maple neck-thru design, with empress wood (aka paulownia) wings. This makes it very light (it’s one of the lightest solid-body instruments I’ve ever owned!) while also giving it a bit of a different voice.

For electronics, it uses a pair of Aguilar Super Double pickups, paired with Aguilar’s OBP-2 preamp. This also helps to give the bass a different voice compared to the classic Spector sound.

Why Did You Buy It?

Until now, when I’ve recorded music, I’ve relied on octave pedals / pitch-down effects to make a guitar sound like a bass. It’s not very convincing to listen to, and it certainly isn’t inspiring to play. Plus, all too often, I’d just double the guitar parts, instead of writing an actual bass line.

I do own a Fender Mustang bass, and while it’s a very capable instrument, I don’t think it’s the sound that I’m looking for. It does the classic Fender Precision and Jazz bass tones, and seems to do them pretty well. I just want a different sound.

So I’ve been on the lookout for a bass with active pickups for a while now.

Also, I’m currently going through a process to design and build a new pedal platform preset for my Axe-FX 3. As part of that process, I’m revoicing my preset. Thing is, I’ve no idea whether my “new” voicing will fit well in a mix with a real bass. I’d like to find out!

Why Not Get A Bass Instrument Plugin Instead?

A bass instrument plugin of some kind definitely has a lot of advantages – especially for someone like me who can’t play bass (yet!), and for whom it’ll only ever be a secondary instrument at best.

So why not something like EZbass from Toontrack?

This is (at least partly) formed by my experience with drums. I enjoyed the physical challenge of playing drums, and when I had to give that up, I’ve struggled to find joy in sitting down and programming drums instead.

I simply don’t want to go through that again with bass.

Why Spector?

As a guitar player, I found it quite difficult to research the different options that are out there. That struck me as very odd – bass is played on more recordings than guitar, after all. But written reviews are rare, and I struggled to get a lot of useful information from bass reviews and demos from YouTube.

Huge shout-out to BassTheWorld as one place with both great reviews and great demos.

Instead, I’ve found songs where I like the bass tone, and then worked backwards from there to learn what they used on the recordings. And time and time again, Spector basses came up during that research.

From what I’ve read, the classic Spector sound includes both a solid low foundation and plenty of mid-range too, allowing it to be clearly heard while making space for other instruments (guitar and drums) at the same time.

For an amateur home hobbyist, that sounds like a cheat code to me 🙂

What finally nailed it though was two different things:

  1. The Warning’s Alejandra Villarreal consistently gets acclaim from experienced professional sound engineers for her Spector bass tones.
  2. Jason Newstead played a Spector bass on Enter Sandman.

Full confession: I’ve definitely fallen down The Warning rabbit hole over the last few weeks, and a good part of that is their phenomenal live sound. I’ve really enjoyed how Ale uses her bass as a voice in its own right (rather than just an accompaniment to Danny’s guitar), and that’s made possible by the fact we can clearly hear her bass in the first place!

As for Enter Sandman … I use that as one of my reference recordings when trying to record music. Back in the day, it was unusual in the metal world for sounding so rich and present, with a mix that actually had some air in it.

I’m not chasing their tones (that’s not my thing). Knowing what Spector basses can do with guitar-heavy music was a big factor in my decision though.

Why The Spector Euro 5 RST?

Whatever bass I got, it was always going to be a 5-string bass. I’m fascinated by the compositional opportunities that having that low-B offers. It also offers some benefits for playing too, because I can shift down a string to avoid having to shift my fretting hand down the neck.

In the shop, we tried three different basses:

  • Spector Euro 5 LT in a very fetching purple,
  • Spector Euro RST in a colour dangerously close to teal,
  • and a Spector NS Ethos 5 in “super faded black” (which looks quite brown in person!)

I’m glad that I went to the shop to try the basses.

Out of the three, I found the Euro 5 LT the most difficult to physically play. It had the largest neck (a true baseball bat!) and an action that was far too high for a bass beginner like me. (I imagine the setup is deliberate, that it offers a strong advantage to an experienced bassist. It just completely defeated me!)

The Spector NS Ethos 5 had the perfect bass sound. There’s just no other way to explain it. It was just spot on in every way. It also felt comfortable in the hand (large neck, but not as large as the Euro 5 LT; action was a reasonable height for me), and the weight felt good too.

So why didn’t I buy it?

First off, the Euro RST is light. And by light, I mean that it weighs less than my Les Paul does. I’m not getting any younger, and after surgery a few years ago, I’ve definitely learned a new appreciation for lighter instruments.

The main attraction to me, though, was the voice. There’s something distinctive about it, quirky even. Compared to the NS Ethos 5, the Euro RST’s energy seems to be more in the mid-range, and it has an airy quality to it that really caught my attention. I think it’ll prove to be a great instrument to compose on. It should also encourage me to write more distinctive parts.

And last but not least, there aren’t many of these around. I don’t know if the Euro RST line has been discontinued or is just in very short supply. Either way, I figured that while I could pick up an NS Ethos 5 easily in the future if I’d made a mistake, this was possibly my one and only chance on getting the Euro 5 RST.

So as great as the NS Ethos 5 was, I felt that the Euro 5 RST was the right choice on the day.

Passive Pickups, Active Tone Controls

If I’ve got this right, this particular Spector bass doesn’t have 100% active electronics. The pickups themselves are passive, while it’s the tone circuit that’s active (i.e. powered by a 9v battery).

I haven’t been able to find much about the pickups. Even Aguilar’s official site is very light on information. Aguilar and Spector are both owned by Korg these days, but I haven’t found anything suggesting that’s the main reason for Spector using these pickups in their current line-up.

The Aguilar preamp seems to be a commonly-used component. According to Aguilar’s website, the bass control can cut or boost +/- 18 dB at 40 Hz. Man, that’s low! The treble control can also cut or boost +/- 18 dB, this time at 6.5 kHz.

Something that’s really struck me is how much I can vary the sound of the instrument just by adjusting the volume and tone controls. Maybe it’s just because I’m new to it, but it seems to me that the controls on an active bass offer far more variance than the controls on a guitar?

One thing that I do have to get used to: I must remember to unplug the bass when I’m not using it. Otherwise, I’ll end up draining the battery 😭

What’s It Like To Play?

I’m a guitarist, not a bassist. I’ve run into several challenges, and they’re not unique to the Spector. I’d have exactly the same problems no matter which brand of bass I’d bought.

Firstly, simply fretting a note cleanly is going to take some work. Bass strings, by their nature, are much bigger and much heavier than guitar strings. I don’t have a strong grip to begin with, and when I play guitar I’ve got a fairly light touch with my fingers (but a bit of a death grip round the neck itself!)

The frets are far more spread out on a bass guitar, even when playing up around the fifth fret. Just fretting 5th and then 8th is a bigger stretch than I ever do on the guitar – not to mention that I’m trying to fret the 8th with my weakest finger.

Oddly, though, it’s actually my index and middle fingers that I’m getting wrong the most. They both keep landing in the exact same fret. Or, sometimes, I’ll accidentally drag my index finger up the neck just enough to land around the fret itself, which ends up deadening the note completely.

As a rhythm guitarist, I often play with my thumb wrapped around the top of the neck. Can’t do that on bass without having big meat platters for hands – which I don’t. I’ve got to learn to keep my thumb on the back of the neck, and fret the strings with the pads of my fingers rather than my finger tips.

That’s going to take a long time to learn. In the meantime, I keep scraping my hand along the top string. And boy, can that be heard very clearly through my speakers!

Speaking of having five strings, I’m still a bit lost as to what note is where. I keep falling back on habit, and trying to move around the fretboard as-if the bass is tuned E-A-D-G-B.

And as for plucking notes, right now I’m cheating, and playing with a pick. I’d rather make progress somewhere and get a sound out of it today. I will learn to play finger-style, but only once my left hand isn’t demanding quite so much attention too!

All in all, what I’m trying to get across is that a bass may be guitar-shaped, but it isn’t a guitar. It’s an instrument in its own right, and I feel like a total beginner once again. I think that’s part of the fun!

Tuning Is An Unexpected Challenge

Maybe it’s just that I’m not picking the notes cleanly enough? Either way, getting a tuner to accurately (and confidently!) tell me the current note is proving far harder than I expected.

Even the strobe tuner built into my Axe-FX 3 struggles to determine the fundamental note that it’s hearing. As for headstock tuners, forget it. None of the ones in the house can cope at all.

Does this mean there’s such a thing as a bass tuning pedal? I need to look into that?

I suspect that what I need to do is make use of that active preamp; turn the bass down, and turn the treble up. That will probably give the Axe-FX 3’s strobe tuner a stronger fundamental to lock onto.

How Does It Sound?

Here’s a demo from someone who can really show off what this instrument can do.

BassTheWorld demos the Spector Euro RST bass line

Did I Buy The Wrong Bass? No!

I’ll be honest … it didn’t feel good leaving the store without the NS Ethos 5. I was having strong doubts within 10 minutes of setting off to come back home. [Probably wouldn’t be writing this section if I didn’t still have those doubts – Ed]

A huge part of that is how perfect the NS Ethos 5 sounded (in the hands of someone who could actually play bass! Thank you to Mark for demo’ing it for me!). To my ears, it sounded exactly like the sound I was chasing in my head.

Now that I’m home, and have built myself an initial preset for the Euro 5 RST, I am happy with my choice. I’ve found it very easy to get some nice mid-range from it, and if anything, I’m having to turn down the low-end to stop it overwhelming everything.

That said … I think the NS Ethos 5 would be the better choice if I was playing bass for other people.

What Does Your Axe-FX 3 Preset Look Like?

Here’s a screenshot of the signal chain:

My first attempt at a Axe-FX 3 for bass guitar

Oh, and if you want to try it for yourself, you can download it from Axe-Change.

The basic idea is to use a Crossover block to split the signal in two:

  • the top row handles everything above 800 Hz (ie note attack and note definition),
  • while the bottom row handles everything below 800 Hz (ie big fat clean bass).

For amps, I’ve gone with an Orange bass amp (Citrus Bass 200 model) on the top row, because I think it does interesting things with the note attack. On the bottom row, I’m using an Ampeg SVT bass amp (SVT 2 model), because it’s a classic, and because I think the low-end does benefit from the colour that an amp adds.

After some experimentation, I decided to only do compression on the top-row. Compression on the bottom row just seemed to smear the notes a bit too much. Probably something that can be fixed over time with better understanding.

Same goes with the reverb. Sounds tasteful on the top-row, and messy when applied to the bottom row. I’m using the Sun Plate model for now, pretty much at default settings.

Most of this preset is built from tips from Leon Todd and Produce Like A Pro. All mistakes and misunderstandings are very much mine.

Does It Have A Name Yet?

Yes. Its name is The Ghoul.

I honestly have no idea why 🤷‍♂️

Final Thoughts

When I was a kid learning guitar, my friends and I were on the receiving end of distain from the rich kids who could afford decent instruments (if you couldn’t afford a school-sanctioned instrument, the school wouldn’t give you proper music lessons, which only added to this divide alas). They felt that heavy rock and metal music was nothing more than bass parts played on guitar, and they weren’t shy at sharing their opinion.

That was such a disservice to electric bass.

It’s an instrument in its own right, not only with its own playing techniques but also with the effect it can have on a song. Drums can dictate the pace; bass can dictate the energy.

I’m really looking forward to exploring that for years to come.

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